According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 10 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Formally trained paralegals who possess strong computer and database management skills are projected to be the most in-demand, the BLS also writes.
Making the most out of your career as a paralegal requires setting your intentions for success from the very beginning. Incorporate these tips as you work toward your professional goals:
#1: Network across your industry
Be willing to get out there and make connections that count. Developing a solid network of colleagues begins with consistently putting yourself in the room with a plethora of potential mentors. Join a professional paralegal organization, become a member of a local paralegal network, speak at conferences and events—the more rapport you build in the paralegal community, both locally and beyond, you’ll be able to navigate training, skills development, career changes and more.
#2: Volunteer for pro bono work
Step outside the box to pursue opportunities that wouldn’t normally come across your desk. Volunteering to support litigation projects pro bono can help you to gain experience in an area of practice you were unfamiliar with. Try legal advocacy or online postings for projects needing legal support volunteers.
You could leverage your new skills to gain a promotion in your current position, or you can use them to seek a new opportunity. It’s about seeking out work that will keep you consistently feeling challenged and progressive. Go into these opportunities with the intention to build new connections, skills and know-how that can only make you a better professional.
#3: Invest in your professional image
Take the time to hone your professional image beyond what you wear to the office or on a video conference, to highlight your presence in the legal community. In the tech age, this means expanding your online image with updated professional photos, a defined elevator pitch for your skills and priorities, and deciding how you want to be known and associated.
Plan to create 5-10 opportunities to expand your image for every year of your career. Whether the opportunity is a speaking engagement at the next conference, writing a blog post for your favorite publication, or joining a panel for a webinar, use each activity to help build your skills and resources.
#4: Stay current
Plugging into subject matter experts is a great way to stay current in the industry. Use the bookmarks feature in your browser to keep links to your favorite watering holes easily accessible. You can often find great water cooler topics and ideas to help improve your firm with these sources. Stay informed and keep track of industry trends, emerging legal technology, court trends, etc.
#5: Dive into the U.S. legal system
Develop a deeper understanding of the U.S. legal system to help you stay updated to changes in the legal process. As you plan your career, you may find that you are more drawn to a specific area of practice or support. Be sure to have these important resources in your bookmarks for easy reference:
- United States Courts – get links to federal court sites, search for federal courts by state and district and more.
- Nolo – provides a legal dictionary, free and paid forms and eBooks, articles and more.
- Law Dictionary – database for law/legal terminology and other topics.
- Law Guru Internet Law Library – online resource originally built for the U.S. House of Representatives.
- Legal Talk Network (LTN) – listen in to their audio podcast series about intellectual property, technology, litigation and more.
- FindLaw – use the legal dictionary, forms, lawyer search, legal news and more.
#6: Upgrade your tech skills and have the right tools
Acquire training to use tools that you can take with you from firm to firm. Sometimes this means taking the initiative to go beyond what the basic requirements are for your firm and seeing how you might uncover ways to do more. If you discover a program you haven’t used, take the time to get formal training for the best results. Do some research into trusted tools your firm hasn’t tapped into yet. Or explore to see how you might make more use of existing technology to fill in key gaps.
#7: Know the paralegal job market
Get to know the job market to prepare for any changes that may be career altering. Stay informed on how firms are using paralegals and the skills they expect them to have. This also means being informed on how economy changes could affect the way that firms do business. Emerging technologies can also affect the relationship between law firms and paralegals. Your job is to constantly be seeking ways to advance your skill set—always keeping in mind that you want to be in the group that is always in demand.
#8: Learn another language
Adding another language under your belt can increase your ability to get hired with a firm. Many firms serve niche client bases that speak foreign languages. Acquire fluency in a new language to assist clients your firm serves who may need translation or other services. If you are planning to support a practice area that traditionally services foreign language speakers, this is an important step in your career planning.
#9: Pick a niche
Choose a specific area of law you want to support and focus on acquiring skills to support it. Many firms want to know that you understand the details of their area of practice and how to support their needs as a paralegal. By acquiring higher level legal support skills that allow you to tailor your resume more closely to job descriptions, you’re improving your chances when seeking new opportunities.
#10: Consider a freelance or contract position
Consider if you would be happier contracting out your services to law firms than in a permanent position. This method of work can help you gain more experience and even open the door to a new opportunity. Create more bandwidth in your work week by taking on contracts and learning to do tasks outside of your normal scope.
Strategic career planning is all about staying updated, believing in yourself, and setting intentions early on in your career. So that even when things feels like they are off track, you can refer back to your original plan, re-focus, and re-commit yourself. Move forward with your unstoppable career by using these tips to guide you toward your goals.